Julie Joyce, Author at Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Thu, 03 Mar 2022 20:44:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.9.2 Link building tool roundup: Site crawlers /link-building-tool-roundup-site-crawlers-306855 Fri, 26 Oct 2018 18:59:00 +0000 /?p=306855 Link building is hard work! Here's how to utilize site crawling tools to make sure your effort pays off.

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If a search engine’s crawler can’t find your content to index, it’s not going to rank. It’s also not a good signal, but, most importantly, if a search engine can’t find something, a user may not be able to either. That’s why tools that mimic the actions of a search engine’s crawler can be very useful.

You can find all sorts of problems using these crawlers, problems that can drastically impact how well your site performs in search engines. They can also help you, as a link builder, to determine which sites deserve your attention.

Link building is never a magic bullet. Links take a lot of hard work, and it can be useless to build links to a site that suffers from terrible SEO.

For this article, I’ve looked at four crawlers: two are web-based and two are desktop versions. I’ve done a very light analysis of each in order to show you how they can be used to help when you’re building links, but they have many, many more uses.

I’ll go through uses for link outreach and also for making sure your own site is in good shape for building or attracting links.

For the record, here are the basics about each tool I’ll be mentioning:

  • Sitebulb: offers 14-day free trial. Desktop web crawler.
  • DeepCrawl: offers 7-day free trial. Web-based crawler.
  • Screaming Frog: free download for light use or buy a license for additional features. Desktop web crawler.
  • OnCrawl: offers 14-day free trial. Web-based crawler.

Note: these crawlers are constantly being updated so screenshots taken at the time of publication may not match the current view.

Evaluate a link-target site

Using a crawler tool can help you maximize your link building efficiency and effectiveness

Do a sample site audit.
Before you reach out to a site on which you want a link, conduct an audit of the site so you have an “in” by pointing out any errors that you find.

Screenshot from Sitebulb’s tool

Screenshot from Sitebulb’s tool

The beauty of a sample audit is the small amount of time used. I have seen some crawlers take ages to do a full crawl. so a sample audit, in my opinion, is genius!

In the example report below, you can look at just a few of the hints and easily see that there are some duplication issues, which is a great lead-in for outreach.

Screenshot from Sitebulb’s tool

Run a report using custom settings to see if a link is worth pursuing. If tons of the site’s content is inaccessible and there are errors all over the site, it may not be a good idea to invest a lot of time and effort in trying to get a link there.

Find the best pages for links.
Sitebulb has a Link Equity score that is similar in idea to internal PageRank. The higher the link equity score, the more likely the page is to rank. A link from a page with a high Link Equity score should, theoretically, with all other things being equal, be more likely to help you rank than one from a page with a much lower Link Equity score.

Screenshot from Sitebulb’s tool

Run a report to find broken pages with backlinks.
DeepCrawl has an easy way to view these pages. Great for broken link building obviously…but even if you’re not doing broken link building, it’s a good “in” with a webmaster.

Who doesn’t want to know that they have links pointing to pages that can’t be found?

Screenshot from DeepCrawl’s tool

Make your own (or client’s) site more link-worthy

You can run the same report on your own site to see what content is inaccessible there. Always remember that there may be cases where you want some of your content to be inaccessible, but, if you want it to rank, it needs to be accessible. You don’t want to seek a link for content that’s inaccessible if you want to get any value out of it.

Do I have duplicate content?
Sitebulb has a handy Duplicate Content tab you can click on. Duplicate content can impact your rankings in some cases so it’s best to avoid or handle it properly. (For more on duplicate content see Dealing with Duplicate Content.)

Screenshot from Sitebulb’s tool

Are my redirects set up correctly?
As a link builder, my main concern with redirects involves making sure that if I move or remove a page with a lot of good links, the change is handled properly with a redirect. There are a lot of arguments for and against redirecting pages for things like products you no longer carry or information that is no longer relevant to your site, as much of that has to do with usability.

I just hate to get great links for a page that doesn’t get properly redirected, as the loss of links feels like such a waste of time.

Am I seeing the correct error codes?
DeepCrawl has a section on Non-200 Pages which is very helpful. You can click on and view a graphical representation of these pages.

Generally speaking, you’d expect to see most pages returning a 200 code. You’d expect to see 301 and 302 redirects. You don’t want to see over 50% of your site returning 404 codes though. Screaming Frog has a tab where you can easily view response codes for all pages crawled.

Screenshot from Screaming Frog’s tool

I would say that you need to make sure you understand which codes should be returning from various pages though, as there may be good reasons for something to return a certain code.

Screenshot from DeepCrawl’s tool

Is my load time ok?
Some people are much more patient than I am. If a page doesn’t load almost immediately, I bounce. If you’re trying to get links to a page and it takes 10 seconds to load, you’re going to have a disappointing conversion rate. You want to make sure that your critical pages load as quickly as possible.

Here’s a report from OnCrawl that can help you zero in on any pages that are loading too slowly:

Screenshot from OnCrawl’s tool

How is my internal link structure?
You don’t want to have orphaned pages or see a lot of internal broken links. If pages can’t be found and crawled, they won’t get indexed. Good site architecture is also very important from a user’s perspective. If you have critical content that can’t be found unless it’s searched for, or you have to click on ten different links to get to it, that’s not good.

Screaming Frog has an Inlinks column (accessed by clicking on the Internal tab) that tells you how many internal links are pointing to each page. You want to see the highest number of internal links pointing to your most critical pages.

In the image below, I’ve sorted my own website by highest to lowest Inlinks, making sure that the most important pages have the most Inlinks.

Screenshot from Screaming Frog’s tool

Do I have pages that are too “thin”?
Considering that you can receive a manual action for thin content, it’s best not to have any. Thin content isn’t good for search engines or for users. Thin content won’t generally attract a lot of great links. In fact, if you do have links to thin content, you run the risk of having those links replaced by link builders working with sites with better resources.

OnCrawl has a good view of thin content which is very helpful.

Screenshot from OnCrawl’s tool

As I said earlier, there are so many ways you can use these crawlers. Here’s a big warning, though! Some crawlers can use a ton of resources. I once crawled a site and the client’s hosting company called him to say they’d blocked it because it was making too many requests at once. If you’re going to run anything heavy duty, make sure the proper people know about it and can whitelist the relevant IP addresses.

Happy crawling!

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Why isn’t my fabulous content attracting quality links? /why-isnt-my-fabulous-content-attracting-quality-links-305208 Tue, 11 Sep 2018 18:43:51 +0000 /?p=305208 Not getting anyone to respond to your link outreach emails? Here's a look at why they may be failing and what you can do to improve your open rates and ultimately your link counts.

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If you’ve ever built links, you know how difficult and tedious a process it can be. It’s great when the stars align and everything works out perfectly, but those instances are rare and getting rarer.

Inboxes are flooded with unsolicited emails, and spam is at an all-time high. You may run into issues with client guidelines that seem unrealistic, or the person you’re pitching your content to may just be having a bad day.

What’s a good link builder to do? How do you get someone’s attention and promote your fabulous content when everyone is trying to do the same?

Let’s break down the main aspects of a link-building outreach campaign and examine ways and resources to help get your emails opened and responded to.

Content

The number one issue with getting good links is good content. Good content can make or break your link building. If you don’t have good content, getting links is ten times more difficult than if you have something unique and valuable to offer.

I feel that also holds true even if you’re buying links, unless you’re working with sites that only exist to sell links and ads. Many webmasters are becoming increasingly reluctant to link out to anything other than quality content that is useful for their readers.

I’ve worked on many campaigns with poor content or nothing to offer other than a sales or product page, and the conversion rate for those campaigns is significantly lower than it is when we’re able to offer great content resources. We’ve seen some campaigns with 80-90 percent conversions when we offered unique how-to guides or guides with video.

Here are a few roadblocks I’ve come up against when managing a content outreach program and ways to get around them.

When a potential host site already has similar content. If you don’t look to see if the topic or type of content you’re pitching isn’t already on your target site, you could be wasting a lot of time. I’ve learned that the hard way. There’s an easy solution, of course, and that’s to do a quick site: search with some major keywords from the piece you’re shopping in order to see if they already have something similar. It’s so simple, yet it’s one mistake that I’ve made multiple times, sadly.

The content isn’t the right fit for their readers. Obviously, you don’t want to try and shop an article on best dog breeds for children to a blog focused on senior health care, because the content would not be a good fit. Granted, seniors have grandchildren who may want a puppy, but overall, the purpose of the senior healthcare site is not to host content on puppy selection.

I have been approached to host articles about swimming pools because an employee had written an article and mentioned how he once worked for a company that installed swimming pools. The article was not about swimming pools, it just mentioned them in passing, and yet, we get emails anyway. It’s a very good idea to spend time reviewing potential host sites to be sure your content will be a good fit.

Making sure a site has the right “tone” is almost as important as making sure it has the right audience. We’ve tried to get links to content and mistakenly approached sites that had very different political views from those espoused in the article we were offering.

The content just isn’t link-worthy. This is a touchy subject, because no one thinks their baby is ugly. Some clients seem to have the idea that any content they produce is link-worthy, when in reality, it’s not. We’ve found that showing successful pieces of content on the same subject helps content developers understand the elements that need to be included to make the piece more linkable.

Discovery and prospecting

This is where my team and I spend the most time and experience the most frustration. While I think link building overall has not changed in the last ten years, there is one thing I have noticed: prospecting for good sites takes much longer than it used to. It’s tedious to prospect manually, but it can be inefficient to work with scrapers and automated tools. Advanced operators can also slow you down with the CAPTCHA.

Here are some workarounds and tips to help with discovery and prospecting.

You get too greedy and contact every site that looks remotely good. In my opinion, this is a giant time-waster for both you and the webmaster you are contacting. You may have the urge to cast a wide net, then sort things out. This works in very small or niche industries. But overall? You will quickly realize you are spending time responding to a lot of webmasters whose sites are not a good fit. It’s hard to offer something and then backpedal and say, “Sorry, I can’t do this after all.” You really need to look at each site you want to partner with or run the risk of going after links and sites that may hurt your link profile.

2. You have no idea how to find sites that would make great link partners. While I love advanced search operators, they can slow things down, especially if you don’t know how to use them properly. If you get really specific with searches, you may find very few results; but if you go too wide, you’ll get sites that use your keywords now and again but are not related to your industry. Use multiple tools to prospect; no one tool returns everything you need. Use the free trials on the paid tools so you get a feel for which one works best for you.

3. You get too caught up in metrics and leave some great sites on the table. One of my major pet peeves is when clients give me a large set of strict guidelines like:

  • No links in articles that have any other links in them.
  • No links in articles unless there are more than two outbound links.
  • No links in articles that don’t have at least three comments.
  • Don’t use a site unless it shows a high authority score as reported by various SEO tools.

I understand metrics can help in some ways, but I don’t think they should overshadow a site that may be the perfect fit.

Outreach

Link-building outreach is tough, and there’s a good chance some of your efforts will fail. Many emails are never even seen by the recipients; I personally delete tons of emails every day. If it’s not from someone I know OR it doesn’t have an interesting subject line, I’m deleting it.

I am pretty sure I am not the only one deleting email. Here are some issues you may encounter with your emails.

Your email doesn’t get opened. Getting your email opened is extremely difficult, as we’re all flooded with unsolicited emails. Using automated, canned email or doing silly little tricks like adding  “re:”  in the subject line to make it look like you’ve already communicated with them doesn’t work and should be avoided. We know what you’re doing!

If an email subject line is full of odd fonts, weird capitalization, emoticons, strange characters or misspellings, I’m deleting it. Telling me what to do and using all caps will get your email deleted as well.

You don’t get any response. This is a nightmare for me; I always wonder what I did wrong to get zero response. Was the subject awful? Did you just get caught up in a massive deleting-emails marathon by a frustrated person? Did the person open it and just not care? Agony. I’d rather get a rude response than no response. At least that way you can learn what you did wrong.

You can also learn from not getting responses. Take a hard look at your email, and if no one responds, your subject line is probably a dud.

You get a negative response. I feel any response is a good one, since it helps me understand if the subject line and email contents were good or bad. If you get a  “please don’t email me again,” then I’m fine with that. We remove the address from our list and move on.

But if I get a response indicating the person on the other end didn’t like the content, I find that feedback very useful. Sometimes you don’t know what needs to be changed until someone who isn’t close to the subject tells you.

Another reason not to send automated, canned email to off-topic sites or send “bad” email? Public humiliation. Every now and again a webmaster will publicly share a bad email which humiliates you or your client. Not good. Send a professionally worded email to solid prospects and this shouldn’t happen.

Negotiation and help

Sometimes you have to do a lot of negotiating to get a link; this is true when buying links or attracting them with content.  Sometimes you get lucky and a webmaster just links to you without you doing anything other than showing your content. It’s not always that easy, though. We’ve had webmasters ask us to clarify what we want. We’ve had webmasters put up links that don’t go anywhere. We’ve had a lot of webmasters who don’t even know how to insert link code, and we’ve had to talk them through it. You name a crazy situation, we’ve probably seen it.

Here are a couple of issues you may encounter.

A webmaster has absolutely no clue what you want, why they should give you a link or how to insert a link.  Anyone can have a blog these days, but you’d be surprised to know how many people don’t have a clue about how to run them, much less code.

Occasionally, we find a blogger who has never been approached for a link and has no idea how to add a link to already published content. In some ways, I feel like these “newbies” are gems since they are not spammed up, but in general, inexperienced bloggers can be hard to work with because they don’t how to insert a link or because they do it incorrectly.

We end up spending a lot of time with these bloggers, and that time is not always worth it. Again, review any potential link partner with a strategic eye, and remember, time is money.

Webmasters become frustrated and bow out. This has happened several times with webmasters who don’t understand link building or know how to insert a link. It also happens when they misunderstand what we’re asking.

We’ve had a couple agree to a placement only to “phone a friend” and ask if what they are doing is a good idea or not. We’ve heard people come back with “Well, I’ve heard what you’re asking is a scheme to steal my passwords and identity” or “I’ve been told you’re trying to hack into my site in some way.” We’ve seen a lot of craziness here.

Offering clear and concise information in your initial pitch email will help eliminate a lot of confusion and save you time down the road. Be clear about your intentions, and when possible, offer testimonials or examples of other sites hosting similar content.

Webmasters do what they want, which is not always what you want them to do. Hey, it’s their site, so they can do what they want, but sometimes, it can be a problem.

In cases where you want something very specific, be specific with what you want. We’ve negotiated great content with a resource link in it and found the link removed and listed in tiny font on the sidebar of the home page. We’ve also had people move the resource link to the end of the article or post the link on every single page on the website. Moving links doesn’t help the reader understand the story or provide needed information, it often makes the story confusing. Telling people up front why the links are embedded the way they are goes a long way to keeping them in place.

Follow-up

There’s a lot of debate about how to best follow-up with webmasters when conducting a link campaign. I hate it when I’m bugged nonstop, but I also can’t ignore the fact that our success rate is due in part to our follow-up procedures.

I’ve seen cases it took eight followup emails to get content placed. I used to think we should give up after try three, but many of our links go live after more than five emails, so I no longer feel that way. It’s irritating, but it really pays off.

Here are some mistakes you may be making with your follow-up efforts.

You don’t remember to include an opt-out. Including opt-out instructions is standard on all of our outreach email. Since we depend on webmasters for links, why run the risk of really irritating them when it’s so easy to give them an out?

You don’t do any, or enough, follow-up, and you leave potential links on the table. If you’ve ever implemented a link-building campaign, you know you can get some great links by following up. With so many emails hitting everyone’s inbox these days, it’s very easy for your outreach to get overlooked. Following up at the right time can do the trick. Maybe you feel like you should follow up only once. That next email could be the one that lands the link.

Keep your emails light and informational, and don’t forget the opt-out!

You waste your time following up too many times or on too many platforms. This can be massively inefficient. If you’ve followed up more than 10 times, then most likely that link is not going to happen, and you’d be much better off focusing on outreach to other webmasters.

This might be a personal preference, but I don’t really like to be called out on Twitter for not responding to an email. I’ve seen people doing this a lot recently, and I do wonder about the success rates. I might go and search for the email they are referring to and then respond, but I would be quite annoyed by this method.

I don’t really mind the tweets that say, “Hey Julie, I sent you an email,” but I do mind the ones that say, “Hey Julie, you haven’t responded to me.” That’s just rude.

To close

I really feel like I could write this same article every month and come up with completely new examples of what could go wrong. At least every few weeks I hear myself exclaim “well that’s a new one!”

I suppose that’s one thing that keeps link building so fascinating for me. It might be tedious, but it’s never boring. I really think many people learn best from their mistakes, so I try to look at these issues as being helpful. The key is to view problems as a learning experience and to wait excitedly for the next crazy thing to happen.

The post Why isn’t my fabulous content attracting quality links? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Link-building tools you may not know about /link-building-tools-you-may-not-know-about-303699 Mon, 13 Aug 2018 16:11:00 +0000 /?p=303699 Contributor Julie Joyce breaks down the nuts and bolts of four unique link-building tools and shares how each can help analyze web pages and assist in your linking efforts.

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If you are actively building links, you probably already know about many of the main link-building tools. If your time and financial budgets allow, check out some of these multipurpose search engine optimization (SEO) tools to aid you in your link-building efforts.

I’ll cover the tool in general and then look at the unique “nuts and bolt” features of each tool so you get the most of out it when executing link-building and content marketing campaigns.

Paid link-building tools

These first two tools are robust options that perform a variety of functions and are paid tools.

Nightwatch.io. This fairly new tool has the ability to monitor 20 domains and 100 keywords. Like most tools, Nightwatch lets you track your rankings, monitor your backlinks and do tons more, but if you’re on a budget or looking for something new, it’s a great one to try.

It’s also a very pretty tool with great visuals. You can also hook it up to Google Analytics and Search Console.

In terms of link building, while I wouldn’t advise anyone to rely solely on rankings or any other one metric, it’s very good to know if you are moving up, staying the same or falling in the search engine result pages (SERPs) so you can figure out what’s going on.

There’s a great section of the Nightwatch tool where you can see a graph of your average SERP position alongside your competitors’. You can quickly run ranking reports based on the keywords you’re tracking and identify which keywords need work. If you’re building links to certain pages and using specific anchors, you can use this information to try and see where you need to put your focus. Just don’t get too caught up in the typical day-to-day ranking fluctuations, as it can drive you crazy.

Another great feature I use frequently is to quickly visualize how rankings for a client compare to rankings for his/her competitors. This is useful information to have when starting a new link-building campaign. If you notice your page is moving down while the competitors are moving up, that’s a good sign that something needs to change.

You can also pin items on the Dashboard if you want to monitor multiple sites or just different information for one site, making it easy to put together a dashboard that gives you what you need immediately after logging in.

And if you’re one of those people who lives to see a daily ranking report, you can see that as well.

Another thing I like is the Notifications section which tracks keywords and gives you new keyword suggestions. I love getting keyword suggestions when I’m running out of ideas and steam trying to find new linking partners or new content ideas.

LittleWarden.com. This tool checks for mail exchanger (MX) records and redirects. It also monitors page title changes, which I find very useful. I’ve seen some great improvement in rankings and conversions after altering page titles.

This tool monitors anything that has the power to negatively impact your rankings. A pet peeve of mine is when there is a technical issue on a site beyond my control, and I discover no one on their SEO team is monitoring it. You certainly don’t want to be working hard to attract links to a page that becomes inaccessible to Google. The monitoring feature on this tool will definitely help here.

You definitely don’t want to have a domain or secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate expire. Little Warden keeps an eye on expiration dates and will send a monthly email reminder when ending dates draw near. All of the features with this tool can be configured to your convenience which is nice.

Free link-building tools

These next two tools are free online tools that are more specific to certain tasks.

Siteliner.com. This tool helps find both broken links and duplicate content.

Broken links make for a poor user experience. Duplicate content is problematic enough that Google has an entire page about how to handle it, so it’s a good idea to use canonicalization if you have multiple pages with very similar or duplicate content.

The Skipped Pages section lists reasons why the page was skipped, potentially leading you to some troublesome issues, such as a page being blocked from Bing and Google bots or a 404 error. That’s very good information to have for your own site, but if you’re scanning a target site for link building, you definitely want to make sure you won’t be putting a link on a page that is blocked and won’t get indexed.

Finding broken links on web pages is easy with this tool. Search on a keyword and look for solid partner sites in what’s returned. Offer great content with working links to replace what’s broken on your target sites.

FirstIndexed.com. This is a free tool that allows you to discover when a uniform resource location (URL) was first indexed. It’s a search that appends some variables to make it easier for you, and I like easy!

If you’re trying to place links on a page, and you have no idea of how old the page is, this tool will give you an idea of how current the information is. If you land on a great page, and it was first indexed 10 years ago, you’d want to double-check to make sure that all the content is still relevant and accurate.

When it comes to topics that update frequently, older pages aren’t always a great source or a good link partner.

Older pages also have a higher probability of broken links, so you can also use this tool to check for broken links. Not only is that good for link building, it’s a good way to get a webmaster’s attention, by nicely pointing out that something needs to be fixed or updated.

To close

Link building can’t always be done with just the naked eye and still needs the support of smart, well-optimized pages to impact rankings. You can build great links to a site with smart content, but that doesn’t guarantee better rankings or increased traffic. There are many other factors at play that need to be taken into consideration, and the tools I have listed can help and be a great addition to your link tool arsenal.

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15 checks you should make when choosing a link partner /15-checks-you-should-make-when-choosing-a-link-partner-302082 Tue, 17 Jul 2018 19:08:00 +0000 /?p=302082 How can you best evaluate a site to determine whether it’s a good linking partner? Contributor Julie Joyce outlines 15 things you need to check including site hacks, poor quality content, traffic and more.

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When inbound links occur naturally, you don’t look to see if the site linking to you is a good linking partner. They just link in, and eventually, you look if you need to.

Most websites don’t “just” accrue links on their own if they are focused on ranking; they use some sort of link-building tactic to attract them. Link-building companies like mine offer these services and start all projects with a look and evaluation of the sites we’ll be contacting for links. Good link partners are key to a good linking campaign.

In this article, I’ll home in on how we initially determine if a site will make a good linking partner.

Checklist of questions

Here are the questions and criteria we use to rate a website as we prospect for link-building partners. Use them as a checklist as you begin your linking campaign.

1. Is the site indexed in Google?

To me, the ultimate sign of something wrong with a web page is the lack of its appearance in Google. If the web page you’re looking for doesn’t show up in Google? Not a good sign, and I’d probably avoid the site overall. If you’re using any other search engine, following links or coming to a site from a social network, it is critical you go back to Google and check for the web page. If it’s not indexed, there’s no need to go any further.
2. Is there contact information on the site?

I don’t need to see where a blogger lives, of course, but if there’s no way to contact the webmaster on the site? I wouldn’t consider them as a link partner. They obviously don’t want to be contacted. Even having just a form on the site raises a flag for me. Look for an email address, telephone number and social media accounts that show the site has an active webmaster behind it.

3. Is the writing any good?

You don’t have to be a brilliant writer, but it’s not good to find terribly written content on a site. If you want your link to get clicked on, the writing has to be good and engaging, or it’s never going to happen.

4. What does the traffic look like?

You want to see it steady or increasing. You want the majority of the traffic to come from the site’s geographic target area. You do not want to see big traffic crashes or traffic coming from known link farms and communities.

5. Does the site openly sell links?

You would be surprised at the number of sites that sell links, even sites you’d never think are in the selling game. I always check to see if they are offering a paid link program publicly on their site, and if they are, we avoid it.

6. Are there any site hacks?

I always do a site search for various terms like Viagra and Cialis (the two most popular ones I’ve seen.) For example, the Pharma hack injects pharmacy-related terms into a site’s code, and the damage may not always be visible on the site itself, although it will appear in the search results.

7. Does the site have a lot of content related to gambling, payday loans, drugs and/or porn?

Unless you are building links for a site in one of those industries, I’d say avoid these types of sites unless it really and truly makes sense to get a link from them.

8. Does the site rank for its brand?

There are cases where this might not happen and everything is fine, but generally speaking, you want the site to rank for its brand name and (at least) somewhere in the top five. If it’s a very unique name, and you don’t see it on page one, something is definitely wrong.

9. Is this the original source or duplicate content?

It is always best to find the original source of a story and try and get a link there instead of on a small news publication or blog hosting the original article. They might not have permission to host the original article, so it’s best to find the source and work to place a link there.

10. Does the site look like it was made to sell or host links?

If the site is hosting articles pulled from an article directory or very short content loaded with a lot of keyword-heavy anchor text, it is probably not a good partner site. Run the content you find through a plagiarism checker, and if article directory content is returned? Avoid the site.

11. Does the site readily identify links?

This is a huge issue for visually impaired users, and it can also be a red flag. Why make the link look like regular text and not a link? When this happens, it’s usually to hide the fact that they’re selling links.

12. Has the owner ever emailed you trying to offer you a link?

I always check through my emails and our Do Not Contact database to make sure they haven’t been pursuing us.


13. Is every other post written by a Guest Author or Guest Expert?

The “guest” bit can be a little misleading, as a lot of guest posts are actually paid posts. Just as you don’t want to put your link on a site with tons of paid links, I wouldn’t want to put a link on a site with tons of guest posts.

14. Are people engaging with the site through social media?

I’m not saying they have to have a billion Instagram followers, but more engagement usually leads to more clicks on your links. Conversely, look to see if the site is interacting on the social networks. This is a sign the site is being promoted and wants to increase its traffic and prominence in an industry.

15. Last thing… does it look like your link would be a natural fit for the content AND get clicked on?

In the end, this is what really matters. There is no reason to add content or links to a site selling baby strollers if you are a site promoting call center software. The two industries don’t click from a people or engine bot standpoint.

My checklist should help get you started; it is a basic list, but you can modify it to meet your needs and industry.

The post 15 checks you should make when choosing a link partner appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Should you keep your best content on your site or send it away? /should-you-keep-your-best-content-on-your-site-or-send-it-away-300362 Tue, 19 Jun 2018 14:44:00 +0000 /?p=300362 Contributor Julie Joyce looks at the pros and cons of keeping content on your site versus sending it away.

The post Should you keep your best content on your site or send it away? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Recently, I’ve had some very enjoyable discussions with other search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) about where to place promotional content.

Opinions vary and are dependent on the goals of the webmaster. Some webmasters openly ask for guest bloggers since they need content and don’t have a writing staff.

Others who are just starting out want to write guest posts or columns for sites other than their own as a way to boost their reputation and increase inbound link counts.

Some newbie professionals ask more seasoned SEOs to participate in roundup posts as a way to build credibility for their sites. There are many reasons people ask for content or ask to place content.

Many of my colleagues are of the opinion that if you’re going to create great content, you should keep it on your own site. While I can definitely see that point, I really do like the idea of having my content placed on other sites because it increases my potential for traffic, leads and clients.

Go west, young lady

I’m fine with placing content on other people’s websites. I believe in branching out and placing content because it works for me.

I am lucky to get a lot of good leads from my Search Engine Land column, as well as interviews, the occasional guest post, roundups and lists on other sites and on social media.

My rankings are not nearly as good as they once were, but it’s interesting that while they have fallen, my traffic has remained mostly steady (albeit from traffic spikes that occur when I publish something and very little traffic when I don’t) and my leads have continued to come in just as they once did. In fact, I’m getting more than ever.

I also get a lot of direct traffic. Organic search is my third-highest source of traffic, as you can see below:

This is another reason I like placing my content on other sites: If anything happened to my site, I’d still be able to maintain traffic and leads.

When I dig around in the analytics accounts of many of my clients, this is a much more common picture:

In a case like this, with the referral traffic being third and around 30 percent of the traffic from organic search, there’s no way I’d put my best content on someone else’s site. I might put good content on another site, but I’d definitely be selfish with content that I’d spent a lot of time and energy creating.

Pros and cons

If you’re struggling to decide where to place your content, you really have no choice other than to look to see where your traffic is coming from and try to make a decision.

If you’re like me and get most of it through referrals, I’d pursue that. If most of the traffic is coming from organic search, I’d keep it on my site in most cases.

Here are some pros and cons of placing your content elsewhere.

Pros:

  • You improve your chances of new business by reaching a different audience.
  • You gain more authority as an expert in various online communities.
  • You can be featured in other sites’ roundups and newsletters, broadening your reach.
  • You increase your chances of online survival if anything happens to your own website.

Cons:

  • You’re first driving traffic to someone else’s site with your content.
  • Your reputation can depend upon the reputation of the hosting site.
  • Your content could be removed at any time.
  • The hosting site could shut down.

Here are some pros and cons of keeping your content on your own site.

Pros:

  • You’re driving traffic to your own site without a middleman.
  • You are completely in control of the content.
  • If you do any link building for the content, those links help your site and not someone else’s.
  • You are building your site’s authority.

Cons:

  • If you are penalized in any way, you have a decreased chance of still getting traffic.
  • If your site doesn’t rank well and have decent traffic, you may not see much return on investment (ROI) from your content.
  • You may not reach as diverse an audience as you wish due to your site’s demographics.
  • You may be losing the opportunity to attract links if your site is not a popular one.

Content types and where they go

Let’s look at three different types of common content and explore where they should be housed and why.

Evergreen content that will be updated. I’d keep this on my own site unless I got no traffic whatsoever. It’s much easier to be in control of updates. Evergreen content can also attract some really good links, so I’d opt for having those links pointed to my own site. For example, if I had a site that sold ceiling fans and had a how-to guide on choosing and installing ceiling fans that contained step-by-step instructions and videos, I’d never want that to go on anyone else’s site. instead of my own.

One-off pieces. If you can find a really relevant place for a one-off piece, I’d place it on that site and not my own. For example, if I were to write an article about the best free WordPress plug-ins to use, I’d see if I could put that on a site that is about WordPress or web design rather than on my site, which is only about link building.

Lists of resources. I’d keep the main list on my own site and try to contribute pieces of that list, or possibly a slightly different list, to other sites. If this is on your own site, it’s also much easier to update. For example, if I had a list of the best content creation tools, I’d keep that on my own site and maybe create lists such as “Top 10 free content creation tools of 2018” on another site.

Don’t forget social platforms!

Social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Medium can generate a lot of good traffic. You can use Twitter to tweet out tips and news, participate in Facebook groups or use Facebook posts. These platforms are great for traffic and getting feedback in the way of comments on your content.

Content is not just articles. You can do infographics, podcasts, transcripts of podcasts, case studies, survey results, slide decks and more. Mix it up; all content is great for bringing some qualified traffic, and that is the most important thing of all.

The post Should you keep your best content on your site or send it away? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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The importance of transparency and understanding risk in link building /the-importance-of-transparency-and-understanding-risk-in-link-building-298635 Wed, 23 May 2018 15:26:00 +0000 /?p=298635 Are you looking to hire a link-building company? Contributor Julie Joyce recommends reviewing search engine guidelines before talking to service providers so you know which questions to ask and when to walk away.

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The most important part of the relationship between you and your link builder might not be what you think.

You want them to follow Google’s guidelines (or you might not care) and build great links.

You want their work to give you more traffic and better rankings.

You may be fine with certain risky tactics, or you may only be building links because your competitors are, and you feel the need to keep up.

You may think you want a lot of things, but what you really need is transparency.

Transparency

I’ve spoken to business owners and webmasters who used a link team in the past and never saw the links that were built.

In my opinion, that’s not right. You know exactly where the links are, even if you created content in hopes it would generate links, so you can easily dig around and find out where those links are and report them.

I’ve also dealt with a lot of people who do know which links were built and had no idea how they were built.

  • Are they on a private blog network (PBN)?
  • Were they purchased?
  • Are they within Google’s guidelines?
  • Were they built by the person hired to do the job, or were they handed off to another company?

We have a serious problem in the link-building industry, and it is not simply the divide between doing things the “right” way and taking more risks. It’s more about being honest and upfront about the work itself.

Honesty

I’ve heard so many horror stories about a company contracting with an agency for link services who in turn subcontracted out to someone else. For all you know, the subcontractor could be handing off the job to a sub-subcontractor! You are then multiple steps away from your link builder, which is not a good scenario.

When I talk to potential clients who inquire about using paid links, I ask if they understand the risk of doing so. When I ask about their backup plan for potential problems they may face down the road as a result of using paid links, they ask why they need one. They don’t understand they are doing anything wrong.

Most people don’t know what we know about Google’s guidelines. They just know they want to rank well. Because of their lack of knowledge, it’s not enough to say “OK” to their every request. You have to make sure they fully understand the risks involved with all tactics and sign off on them.

Link-building education

People outside of the search industry don’t spend their days reading about algorithm updates, manual penalties, disavowing links, which methods might get hit next and so on. Throwing some words around to say you’ve brought up certain issues isn’t enough, you really need to be an educator as well as service provider.

Most people in the search industry know I have no issues with paid links and I’ve never advocated using paid links exclusively, but you know what? I can’t name many link-building methods that aren’t risky in some way. Remember how perfect guest posting was, until it wasn’t?

Whatever tactics you’re using, I strongly recommend you disclose what you are doing to the people that hire you. Explain what’s being done, why it’s being done and where it’s being done, and then have them sign off on it.

Questions to ask

If you are planning to hire a link-building company, here are a few basic questions to ask.

  • How will you be building links?
  • Will you be guest posting?
  • Will you be submitting the site to a ton of directories?
  • Will you be using broken link building techniques?
  • Will you be creating and posting sponsored content?
  • How do you find good sites to contact?
  • Do you cast a wide net and email 1,000 sites and then see which ones are viable, or do you spend more time upfront vetting them?

The following questions require more in-depth answers:

Will these links violate Google’s guidelines?

With regard to links, you need to read Google’s webmaster guidelines and read them often to see if anything new has been added.

If you are OK working outside their guidelines, fine, but I would still recommend you check for changes often.

If you want to stay within the guidelines, you definitely want to bookmark them. I say this regretfully, but I wouldn’t take anyone’s word for it when they say they’re working within the guidelines. I’d double check for myself.

What are my risks?

As with many other aspects of online marketing, you can do really well and then drop off the rankings map for various reasons.

The ultimate risk is being deindexed, which I don’t see happen often. What I do see are sites plummeting in the rankings after being hit algorithmically or from a manual action, so everyone needs to understand how comfortable they are with this possibility.

I’ve seen many sites violate Google’s guidelines and continue to enjoy great rankings and traffic, just as I’ve seen sites that really did nothing intentionally wrong get hit and take ages for their rankings to bounce back. In my opinion, many things are risky, so you need to have an honest conversation, not just with your link builder, but also with your team and your partners.

What are some examples of the links I can expect to see?

We have a company non-disclosure policy that forbids us from showing examples of links we’ve built to other companies. That policy seems to be fairly standard in our industry; however, it is acceptable to ask for examples of links that can be found and acquired. You should be able to give a potential client an idea of the kind of links you build.

What will I do if I’m hit with a penalty?

I think the best link builders are ones who can do link audits and help fix backlink issues, so if you’re doing any major link building I’d ask what the plan is in case something does happen. You definitely need to be thinking ahead.

What results can I expect?

I am always very reluctant to give an answer without saying, “No one can predict results.” I understand you can make assumptions based on past work and current analysis, but sometimes things go better than expected and sometimes they don’t. I would never trust anyone who claims they can guarantee an organic ranking position or guarantee a certain amount of organic traffic unless they worked for a search engine.

In closing

What works one day in search marketing may not the next. No one outside of Google or Bing can tell you why your web pages rank they way they do.

Risky tactics may pay off, and safe ones may not. I just urge you to ask questions and really make sure you understand exactly what is being done or your behalf when you hire someone to build links for you.

If someone can’t or won’t answer these questions, I think you’re better off looking elsewhere.

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Why do we overcomplicate link building? /why-do-we-overcomplicate-link-building-296534 Mon, 23 Apr 2018 13:56:00 +0000 /?p=296534 Do we overcomplicate link building to make the job look glamorous? Contributor Julie Joyce thinks we might and suggests it's only as hard as you make it.

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People regularly ask me what tactics and strategies I can share with them about link building.

When I answer, “Well I just search the web for good sites and reach out to them,” I tend to get a lot of disappointed looks and long faces. I don’t have any top-secret methods for finding good linking partners, creating great content or forming a connection.

To me, building links is pretty simple and always has been. It’s just that some parts of it can be tough.

Execution can be tough

While link building is a simple concept, campaign execution can be complex.

Finding good sites takes an enormous amount of time. Researching can take forever, and taking time to establish a working relationship can be highly frustrating.

In fact, the “relationship” part of linking may be the most difficult part of search engine optimization (SEO) I’ve done because it relies on the cooperation of other people.

Link building can be incredibly fun at times and mind-blowingly dull at others. You can’t sit around and wait for links to happen, you have to work hard, keep brainstorming new ideas, learn about industries and their niches and keep coming up with new ideas for content.  There is a clear process I know works well, and I think anyone can do it.

So why do we overcomplicate this thing called link building? Is it anxiety about failing at an important part of online marketing? Is it to make our jobs seem more glamorous? Is it because some of us really can’t build links without using tools, scrapers, spreadsheets and email blasts? I’m not sure. It could be one or all of those things.

Would you click here?

The concept of “Would you click on this link?” is an extremely basic one. I know it can be subjective, but common sense goes a long way here. You don’t need metrics to make this determination, and you don’t need to perform hours of analysis or use fancy tools. You just need to look at the site to see if your link would be a good fit there.

Some types of link building are definitely more difficult than others. Broken link building comes to mind here.

You really can’t just look at a page and see a broken link. Tools are essential to execute this tactic, or you’d be wasting a lot of time.

And yet broken link building is a fairly simple process:

  • Use a tool to find the broken links.
  • Contact the webmaster, propose a different link.
  • Thank her/him when he uses your link.
  • Done and dusted.

What about using content to build links? Certainly, that’s not so easy, right?

Content creation and promotion as a way to build links is not easy at all. This technique takes a lot of planning and money, a great writer and/or designer.

There are a lot of logistics, and coordination can be tough, but the concept behind it all is simple:  create content that people want, and they’ll link to it.

So again, building links is pretty simple and always has been, it’s just some parts of it are tough.

Blinded by numbers

In my opinion, metric blindness can cause problems.

Early on, we made the decision to leave the SEO aspects of link building out of our process and focus instead on finding the best partners.

When we had our link builders focus on finding links to benefit an SEO campaign, we noticed they did not do well. They overthought everything. They’d go for an irrelevant link on a site with great metrics and pass up a relevant link on one with lower metrics.

That doesn’t help anyone.

Consider this: one of my link builders had almost zero experience working on the internet when he came to us. Let’s call him Bob.

Bob had just retired from a long career as a manager the textile industry and was looking for a change, he knew very little about the internet and nothing about SEO.  And yet Bob became a great link builder without needing any tools or reams of metrics.

How? He just finds a site that looks good, sends an email and gets a link.

It’s really that simple.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Simple doesn’t sell,” I’ll agree with you.  Why would anyone want to pay you to do something so simple? Even if simple sells to the client, it doesn’t always sell well to the boss. Bosses want to see numbers and hear it was “hard” in order to justify the fee.

“Doing” simple is easy; it’s just some parts of it are tough.

Burning out

Link-building burnout is very real, and running into a wall creatively is a huge problem.

In my opinion, that’s where the real complications lie. I know link-building agencies that have struggled with this for years and more that tried and failed. Coming up with new link-building ideas is tough. If you don’t keep the creative juices flowing, people get frustrated, burn out and leave.

Keeping people interested and the creative juices flowing is my top priority. In general, it takes a lot to stay motivated and keep your interest up when you’re doing the same thing every day, all day. Brainstorming sessions are a good way to help with this.

Training is also important, especially for new team members. They will have a little downtime, but once they start sending emails and getting positive responses, they realize it’s not that hard.

Eight is the number

Every six months, I reevaluate the time it takes to secure a link, and on average, it has consistently been eight hours.

That doesn’t mean we get a link every eight hours, though. It means we might get one link one day, nothing the next few days, and five links later in the week. But they each take around eight hours to secure.

Trying to figure out the average amount of time it takes to get one link is difficult, but it must be done.  Considering I’ve been building links for years, the fact that it continues to take eight hours is very telling.

The time it takes to get one link remains the same, no matter what changes with Google.

Doesn’t matter if it was eight years ago or now, it still takes a good link builder about eight hours to secure a relevant link. Interesting isn’t it?

A friend recently said that you should be able to build links without using any tools, and I fully agree. If you want to make it complicated, go for it. You just don’t have to. Building links is pretty simple and always has been. It’s just that some parts of it are tough.

The post Why do we overcomplicate link building? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Stop being a link snob and saying no to certain links /stop-being-a-link-snob-and-saying-no-to-certain-links-295150 Tue, 27 Mar 2018 15:20:00 +0000 /?p=295150 Want to know what bugs contributor Julie Joyce when she's building links? When webmasters say no to links using nofollow or link-builders refuse to use new tactics 'just because.'

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If there’s one thing that bugs me about link-building work, it’s the idea that only one type of link is going to work, and anything else is going to cripple the site. Or…

  • The client won’t accept a nofollow or an image link or the anchor text isn’t what they specified.
  • Guest posts will get you penalized.
  • Directory links are useless.

It goes on and on.

Most of the time, I go along with it after explaining risks and rewards, but I need to be a better educator and advocate for a broad link profile.

Why?

When I look at healthy link profiles for sites ranking well, the first thing I notice is the wide array of link types there. Link variety is good!

Every webmaster has a different opinion how links should be built:

  • Some won’t take links below the top fold.
  • Some do not want to be on the same page with a competitor.
  • Almost everyone dislikes links using nofollow attributes.
  • Some hate links on a page with more than three outbound links.
  • Some love being on pages with 50+ other links.

Ask 25 different webmasters that question and you’ll get 25 different answers; that’s the nature of link building.

Link education has come a long way from a few years ago, with so many articles written about links that most people have a good deal of knowledge on the subject.

But people still have a certain type of link they want and even more specific types of links they don’t want. This can easily become an issue if webmasters don’t open their minds to different types of links.

Wash, rinse, repeat

If you look at a link profile comprised of mostly guest posts, you might think, “Well, there’s one asking for a hit.” The same would hold true for a link profile of nothing but social bookmarks or directory sites.

There really aren’t many ways to build links that haven’t had a hit of some sort when the tactic is overdone. As search engine optimization specialists (SEOs), one of our biggest problems is that once we find something that works, we do it to death and ruin it for everyone.

Don’t discount a tactic just because you haven’t done it before. If a good opportunity comes around, consider it.

To give you an example, if you have not searched for resource pages to host your links but find a strong one, consider saying yes and putting your link there. If it’s a good page, on-topic and indexed, I would absolutely say yes! Don’t discount the link source just because you haven’t used the tactic in the past.

So many types of links go in and out of fashion; one day we love guest posts, the next day we hate them. A guest post might just be your best bet for getting a link on a desirable website, so keep an open mind.

Here come the don’ts

Don’t rely on just one type of link or linking tactic for your entire link profile. Having a profile with just one type of link or links from certain pages may look spammy.

Don’t discount nofollows. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in link building.

Websites that naturally attract inbound links also attract links using nofollow. Review the sites they are coming from, and if the opportunity comes up to ask for a nofollow link from a popular site, do it. The traffic they generate is well worth the effort.

Don’t hate on sites with lots of links, image links, directory links, links on new sites, links on Cold Fusion sites (that’s mostly a joke), links on sites that look like they were designed in 2000 and so on.

Not all websites are going to adhere to the guidelines you have, and that doesn’t mean they’re bad opportunities.

I’m not saying you should actively pursue getting an image link or participate in a roundup just because you don’t have those types of links. If the link will not sit on a valuable page, I wouldn’t make a huge effort for it.

Healthy link profiles

Having different types of links and mentions are part of a natural link profile and shouldn’t terrify you.  Here’s a list of link types (in no particular order) that I regularly find in healthy link profiles:

  • Guest posts.
  • Links using nofollow attributes.
  • Image links.
  • Mentions without a link.
  • Local citations based on an address.
  • Local citations based on universal resource locators (URLs).
  • Directory links.
  • Social links.
  • Sponsored posts.
  • Reviews.
  • Regular weekly or monthly columns.
  • Pingbacks.
  • Negative mentions.
  • Positive mentions.
  • Redirects.
  • Roundups.
  • Interviews.
  • Quotes.
  • Forums.
  • Comments.
  • Widgets.

I think we’re all terrified of being penalized by bad links, and I get that, but I recommend not turning down a link just because it’s not something you’ve gotten in the past.

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Can you predict what the future holds for your inbound links? /can-you-predict-what-the-future-holds-for-your-inbound-links-292847 Tue, 27 Feb 2018 16:40:55 +0000 /?p=292847 Gazing into her crystal link building ball, columnist Julie Joyce says it's hard to tell if your links will even be in place, much less be effective, in the future.

The post Can you predict what the future holds for your inbound links? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Almost five years ago I wrote an article about predicting a site’s future and using your expectation to decide whether you should pursue links on that site today. Much has changed in the search engine optimization (SEO) landscape since then so I decided to expand and update my original article.

Sometimes, what’s old is old

It’s interesting to run into sites we’ve worked with in the past and compare their previous and current metrics. Lots of things pop up like:

  • Old links are still live but the host page is full of new links whereas it wasn’t before.
  • Pages that once ranked well no longer do so.
  • Articles with links that were not originally there have been added.
  • And sometimes everything is the same, though, if not better!

A look into the past

It’s easy to determine what a site looked like in the past and compare it to the current site by using Archive.org.

You may notice a lot of changes such as good and bad redesigns, deleted links and entire articles removed. Occasionally you may notice whole sites deindexed in Google:

Due diligence

When starting a link campaign, it is important to go through a number of steps or perform “due diligence” using checklists and guidelines you’ve established.

It may be impossible to check every page but try to do as much as possible so nothing is overlooked. Here are some issues to check for:

  • Is the site indexed in Google?
  • Are there any spammy hacks on the site that haven’t been fixed?
  • Is there contact info on the site?
  • Does the site rank for its brand and major keywords?
  • If you’re placing a link in an existing piece of content, does that page rank for its title?
  • Is the site free from links and ads for gambling, payday loans, drugs, and porn?
  • Have you checked to make sure the content is original and not scraped or duplicated?
  • And always, always…does it look like your link would be a natural fit and get clicked on here?

There’s more depending on the industry and individual website but notice it’s pretty uncomplicated common sense stuff.

So how in the world can you predict what’s going to happen after you finish working on the site?

How do you know the webmaster won’t fill the site up with spam, sell the domain, let it expire or sell the site to a private blog network?

There tend to be signs, both good and bad.  Let’s start with the bad signs.

Bad signs

Here are a few red flags to look for when negotiating for link placement:

  • The webmaster gives you a list of 50 other “great” sites he has.  While some people just own a lot of sites, it is doubtful the other 50 will be as good as the one you sought out.  Look carefully.
  • The webmaster asks if you mind if he gives your information to “friends” who own similar websites. Watch for heavy interlinking with the friend sites — they may possibly even be owned by the same person who’s just using aliases.
  • Traffic on a site has dipped dramatically in the past, even if it’s good now. If the dip was five years ago and everything has been good since then it should be OK but if you see lots of dips, especially in the past few years, that may be a sign a new drop will happen soon.
  • They openly advertise that they sell text links.  Big red flag here; you do not want to work with a site that is basically asking for a Google penalty.

Good signs

Now let’s look at a couple factors that distinguish sites where links live for years and everything is still looking great.

  • Traffic is fairly steady (or continues to increase) through the years with no major dips.
  • Articles are well-written, guest or sponsored posts are identified as such and don’t appear to be full of someone else’s links.

Notice the good list is shorter than the bad list. That’s because you never know what will happen. Is everyone going to eventually get hit in some way since the algorithm changes constantly? Maybe.

Disavow madness

Don’t forget some people disavow like crazy, and they don’t just disavow single webpages — they disavow entire domains, because it’s easier.

I know of sites who want to disavow upwards of 75% of their links when they don’t even have a penalty or they haven’t been negatively impacted by an algorithmic change!

Honestly, when it comes to links, anything can happen. You never know when a site will be penalized, and it’s possible for them to get caught in a wide net and not deserve it. I’ve seen unfair penalties many times and seen sites suddenly drop in rankings and never get back to where they once were, even if they did nothing wrong.

You can’t predict what will happen in link building or SEO. You can make some very educated guesses but change is the only thing you can really guarantee.

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Channel your inner explorer to find link-building prospects /channel-inner-explorer-find-link-building-prospects-290299 Tue, 30 Jan 2018 15:32:08 +0000 /?p=290299 Columnist Julie Joyce shares tips and tricks for finding link-building prospects

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Every time I conduct an in-house survey and ask my linking team, “What do you think is the hardest part of your job,” they answer, “The discovery process!”

Just to clarify, when they say “discovery,” they are referring to the process of finding new sites to contact for a link. They are right; it is one of the hardest aspects of link building. I feel their pain.

When I am building links, I can go through 10 search engine results pages (SERPs) and not find a single website I think is worth reaching out to. Sometimes I get lucky and find five in the top 20 results, but overall, it is getting harder and harder to find good prospects.

Coming up with ways to find new sites is tough, my link builders complain all the time.  They brainstorm as a team, but I wonder what solo practitioners do? If you work on your own, how do you keep the creative juices going and dream up new angles for finding prospects? Here are a handful of ways to channel your inner explorer and find quality link-building prospects.

Ideas from the client

It is rare to have clients who don’t know which keywords they view as significant. We can conduct keyword research for them, but they usually have this information, plus industry jargon, so we use their primary keywords as a starting point for discovery.

When you start the research process, it’s good to have everything written down. Use any system you’re comfortable with. I’m loyal to Evernote. I have a master “note”  for each client where I list all the information they give me. When I get stuck during the discovery process, the first thing I do is re-read the entire note and ask a few questions:

1. What are some keywords you rank for but don’t seem to convert?

2. What are some keywords you aren’t highlighting in existing content?

3. What keywords do a few of your employees think are valuable for you?

I add these “new” words into my notes, list them as secondary keywords and add a handful of quick thoughts so I now have a good list of basic information and terminology to research.

Here is a typical brainstorm list I create:

Don’t forget all your modifiers — normal terms plus words you think might be a little crazy. We have a few employees who use mild curse words in their search strings with great results! Ask very specific questions when you are searching, enter incorrect statements and then compare and contrast, like this:

  • “damn good pet grooming tools”
  • “what are the best dog grooming tools for someone with limited hand mobility?”
  • “grooming your dog vs going to a groomer”
  • “cheaper to pay a groomer than to buy a dog brush”

I would add these searches into my discovery sources and then head to my tools and resources to help with the next step.

Helpful tools

Over the years, I have refined my research process and now only use a handful of tools during the discovery phase. Link Prospector from Citation Labs is the main tool I use when prospecting.

I used to be very anti-tools for the discovery process, preferring to search manually, but my team and I feel using Link Prospector speeds things up, so we use it. The tool also lists sites you may have missed when searching by hand.

I tend to only look at the top 10 results when searching manually, but Link Prospector digs much deeper and brings back more opportunities, which is extremely helpful.

You can customize your report in various ways, filter the final version and export whatever you like. I tend to export paths rather than the domains and then sort the spreadsheet by different variables, looking at the higher-rated results first.

I also use Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts in the discovery process and find I get different results from each.

Since they are free, I recommend you use both and set alerts for your brand, URL, your primary keywords and anything else you think might be helpful. If you aren’t using alerts, you may be missing out on discovery potential, content ideas and taking advantage of unlinked mentions of your brand.

Using social media for discovery

When it comes to social media, I am a Twitter fan and look for link-building prospects here over most other social networks.

We have gotten some great links by searching bios on Twitter. There are commercial tools for this, such as Followerwonk, but I use Twitter’s advanced search feature the most. It is easy to use and brings back conversations using your keywords.

Using search engines other than Google

Google is not the only search engine in town, and I urge you to use Bing and DuckDuckGo when researching for link prospects. When you find a site you want to use in your link-building campaign, be sure it’s indexed in Google. If it’s not, that could be a bad sign.

Competitive analysis

I don’t usually mine competitors’ backlinks. I’d rather find fresh sources than copy someone else. Even if you feel the way I do about copying competitors, looking at a competitor’s backlinks can be helpful when developing discovery ideas and strategies.

Discovery tips

Here are some of my top prospecting tips:

  • Don’t rely on results found on page 1. A lot of our links come from sites we’ve found by starting the search on page 5.
  • Switch back and forth among all your sources. Use Bing on a certain day, Twitter or DuckDuckGo on others.
  • If a search doesn’t turn up anything useful in the top five pages, start over with a new keyword. Don’t waste time combing through 10 pages of results if you can’t find a couple of good ones quickly.
  • Keep a running list of great sites you find for other clients.
  • Use typos and misspellings in your searches.
  • Use long strings of modifiers. “Best+cheapest+warmest yellow dog sweater” (without the quotes), for example.
  • Search news, videos and image search engines as well. I have great luck doing image searches and then going to the content that hosts them.
  • Look at Quora for questions people haven’t yet given a sufficient answer to.
  • Go offline. Magazines and newspapers can give you ideas.

Keep moving forward while glancing back

It is easy to get frustrated when looking for link prospects, but don’t give up! Find a number of tools you are comfortable with. I really love Evernote since it keeps me organized and helps me stay focused.

Search results change daily, and for a link builder, that’s a good thing because anything “new” might turn into an opportunity — we just have to find it!

The post Channel your inner explorer to find link-building prospects appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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compass-map-discover-ss-1920 example of a client Evernote note Screenshot Link Prospector Talkwalker Alerts Talkwalker Alerts Advanced Twitter search Screenshot